Membership Drive Post #2: We’re ALL Being Reported to ALL THE BOARDS

This is the email I received on Friday in my WCA inbox:  “Hello You Acu Idiots! I am reporting you to the boards of CA, FL, NY, NCCAOM etc…. Quickly and quietly change the use of your name “acupunk”.  My official letter to the boards can be accessed at my blog.

POCA received the same email, which I guess makes it official.

To summarize: we are being reported to various boards because we publicly and privately align ourselves with the word “acupunk”, which demonstrates poor judgment in our professional activities as acupuncturists. We promote actions that undermine the value of acupuncture,  with potentially damaging consequence in the public’s mind — and we devalue the meaning and true joy, beauty and light of acupuncture. By destroying acupuncture we are bringing it down to our own level of marginal skill. We have lost the soul and spirit of acupuncture and are threatening to bring our own darkness to it.

But this isn’t about what kind of treatments we do, or our business model; it’s all because we call ourselves “acupunks”.

To any board members of any organization we’ve been reported to,  I’d like to offer our side of the story.

About a year ago, I wrote an article which was published in the UK Journal of Chinese Medicine, titled “Community Acupuncture: Making Buckets from Ming Vases”.  I explained our choice of the word “acupunk” or just “punk”  as an aspect of a careful and conscious rejection of the professional acupuncture culture that has developed in the US in particular and in Western countries in general — and an embrace of a different kind of culture, which has taken the form of a cooperative, the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture. POCA includes both acupuncturists and patients as members;  our mission is to work cooperatively to increase accessibility to and availability of affordable group acupuncture treatments. Our acupuncturist members call themselves acupunks.

Many of us acupunks, when we went to acupuncture school, were taught that any effort to make acupuncture affordable and accessible to patients of ordinary incomes was “devaluing” the profession. We were taught to practice in a way that would appeal to — and would mostly only be available to — patients with a lot of economic and social privilege. Our efforts to serve a different demographic have been described by other acupuncturists and acupuncture schools, more or less continuously  over the years, as “degrading the medicine”, “debasing the traditions”, “lowering the bar”, and of course, “devaluing the profession”.  We got the message loud and clear that the acupuncture profession did not value the patients that we wanted to serve. One of the definitions of the word punk is “something or someone worthless or unimportant”. By defining ourselves as punks, we are saying that we understand that the acupuncture profession doesn’t value our patients, and we accept that. We can’t make other acupuncturists want to treat the patients that we want to treat — the people that we think need acupuncture the most — and we can’t make acupuncture schools teach their students that these people are worthy of care. We can, however, create a different professional culture, and a different infrastructure, for ourselves.

We create that culture and infrastructure interdependently with our patients. None of us have much money; by choosing to treat people of ordinary incomes, we limit our own incomes to some degree. The people we treat are our friends and our neighbors and our families.  We are not wealthy, but we have each other. Our most precious resource is the power of relationships. We are able to make things happen by being creative together, and all of us gain dignity from that.

As an organization, POCA has created self-help tools that other organizations with much better funding have never achieved. We have a microloan program to start new community clinics in underserved areas. We have a well-used peer mentor program for new clinics. We have the most comprehensive online forums and wikis for practice management of any acupuncture organization. We are starting our own acupuncture school.

Many acupuncture organizations are hobbled and made ineffective by infighting and an inability to be clear about their professional goals. We have been fortunate in that POCA has experienced unusual unity and clarity, which has made it possible for us to accomplish a great deal with very limited finances. Our clarity, our single-mindedness, and our unity of purpose are our most important resources as an organization and we work hard to protect them.
From our perspective, calling ourselves acupunks helps us to be as effective as we are.  POCA is still a young cooperative, and we want to attract only members who care passionately about serving as many patients of ordinary incomes as possible — and who care about that more than they care about status. As long as significant numbers of other acupuncturists despise us for prioritizing our patients over our professional image, as this latest complaint exemplifies, we need to attract a majority of members who can shrug off or even laugh at people who tell us that we are undermining the value of acupuncture. Requiring our members to sign up for an “acupunk” membership is a kind of screening: it tests prospective members for a sense of humor,  moral fiber in the face of opposition, and a willingness to voluntarily tolerate the kind of marginalization that so many of our patients experience involuntarily.

The practitioner who is filing complaints against us calls himself a doctor, has trademarked his treatments, and charges $600 apiece for them. Acupuncturists have been telling each other for decades now that mainstream acceptance of acupuncture and prosperity for its practitioners was just around the corner — we just needed to embrace the professional trappings of Western medicine, wear white coats, call ourselves doctors, and charge “what we’re worth”. Many acupuncturists have done all these things, and yet the acupuncture profession continues to struggle. Most practitioners are underemployed.  POCA has observed that neither reverence for professional status nor reverence for esoteric acupuncture knowledge has translated into reliable access to acupuncture for our patients or stable jobs for us.

 And so we have  opted for irreverence, self-help and a spirit of mutualism. Instead of waiting for anyone important to recognize our ability to provide a valuable service and make life easier for us, we’ve embraced DIY (do it yourself) and DIT (do it together) to build our own structures. We're approaching the practice of acupuncture the way that punk rock approaches music. We’re stripped down, technically accessible, populist and committed to doing it ourselves, so we feel it’s both responsible and transparent to identify ourselves as acupunks. And on a purely practical level, “acupunk” or just “punk” is a shorter and more efficient term than “acupuncturist” — and we need to be efficient because, unlike some of our more reverent colleagues, we’re really busy treating people.

We understand that many acupuncturists have placed their hope in professional status; that’s what they believe in, and that’s their choice. POCA has made a decisive break with that hope. We believe in cooperating with underserved, marginalized patients of ordinary incomes — who also happen to be the greatest advocates, champions, and faithful supporters of acupuncture. We believe in them. As a multi-stakeholder cooperative, POCA is open to everyone, and we would enthusiastically welcome all the acupuncture boards that we are being reported to to join us as organizational members. (Organizational members don’t have to call themselves punks if they don’t want to.) If a spirit of mutualism, cooperation, self-help and hard work appeals to you, whether as an organization, a patient, or indeed an acupunk, please join POCA.

Author: lisafer

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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. This post makes me realize that really there is no where for me in the current models of acupuncture. The social model of the community acupuncture model is what really attracts me, but to be quite honest, I am not your client, because honestly I’m too bloody poor to afford acupuncture even at community acupuncture rates. The acupuncture that I can afford I have to accept that I’m so sick that I don’t really deserve to be treated with respect and be treated anywhere near an equal. And to be perfectly honest, I can’t accept that, I can’t degrade myself in that way simply to get acupuncture. So what I’m doing is getting ineffective acupuncture at rates that I can barely afford and probably should be spending on food rather than acupuncture because even that is something that helps. And sadly I’ve had a falling out with the punks at the local clinic and I’m too unwell to resolve that.

  2. I have never been prouder to be a PUNK. Thank you POCA, thank you WCA, thank you fellow punks. And mostly, thank you to the patients! All of those patients (over 17,000 last year) paying for their affordable and effective treatments have created and stabilized my dream job. These payments have also created five other dreamy, yet very very real, sustainable acupunk jobs. Our dream job involves helping people in a more humble and real way than we ever thought possible. Six hundred dollar treatments are devaluing humanity. Punk you. Punk off. Punk yeah!

    Punk on, punk balls!

  3. Some people will read this and see the outrageousness of Evan’s blog. Some will decide not to click through and read his blog. Some will think that POCA’s response is outrageous.

    I think the main thing to see in this blog is what POCA has become in such a short period of time. While there are those who will agree with much of Evan’s comments, THEY HAVE NOT BEEN PAYING ATTENTION while we’ve been building something of substance in the acu-world, in the co-op world, and in each of our communities. The future of acupuncture looks like this here.

    Our numbers are growing daily, and if you join us we can do so much more! Even if you’re not yet ready to open your own clinic, come on in, the water’s fine. We will welcome you, accept and help you, argue with you, learn from and with you,…and become even stronger together! JOIN POCA! Join one of the working circles and contribute to the future of acupuncture!

  4. Thanks once again for you lucid and straightforward articles Lisa!

    Mostly, it is just sad when someone is soooo stuck on a word for gosh sake. And yet, when I read the ‘code of ethics’ that we are supposed to be breaking by calling ourselves punks, I find that nowhere is it either implied nor stated that acupuncturist cannot choose a snappy nickname for what we do. Let’s take this complaint apart here:

    1. “All practitioners certified by the NCCAOM must be committed to responsible and ethical practice”

    I think we can all agree here that all of us punks are committed to responsible & ethical practice. We don’t hurt our patients, we get our CEU’s, we refer patients out if and when necessary, and as far as I know , none of us has ever traded sex for treatments or anything like that.

    2. ” to the growth of the profession’s role in the broad spectrum of United States healthcare”.
    We have certainly grown the profession’s role in the broad spectrum of the US healthcare by treating so many more patients than had been treated before by making acupuncture accessible and used by ordinary folks, to whole classses of folks who would never have afforded acupuncture d/t lack of income or insurance.

    3. ‘and to their own professional growth.”
    Since it takes treating lots of patients to grow in professional experience and knowledge, and we sacrifice (yes, I said that word), “high pay” per treatment to obtain that experience, the argument could be made that acupunks would seem to be MORE committed to our own professional growth than others whose empty offices force them to sit and ponder the nature of qi instead of actually get in there and moderate qi & blood of real patients.

    just sayin’….

  5. There is so much that is both laughable and sad about this guy’s letter.

    The funny:
    * “Transcendental Acupuncturist”
    * panties in twist about a group of people who in no way are competing for the same demographic
    * “Transcendental Acupuncturist” (I found this funny enough to list twice)
    * acup**k (acuprik? acuplak? acupork? what could that word be??)

    The sad:
    * $600 Treatments
    * well, the whole thing, really.

    He says, “Sacrific[e] yourself to share your love of this medicine.”
    And: “Let your skills and dedication distinguish yourselves.”

    Thanks, I think I will, and do, and only have really been able to do since becoming an acupunk.

    Rock on, acupunk brethren, rock on!

  6. Man, he must be like a level 53 acupuncturist to charge $600 for a house call. Available internationally, no less! And joy of all joys, he’s local here in SWFL! Do you think he’d let me hold his needles if I humble myself appropriately?

    In all seriousness, he does have a point where…BWahahahaha! He accidentally deleted comments because he wanted to move “more pertinent information” (4 posts by him) ton the top of the comment section! OK, back to the seriousness: shoot, I forgot. But I’m sure there was some seriousness to be had.

    Lastly, I think the “add your two cents” line above the comment box is demeaning and devaluing of the opinions of those who would comment here. That is all.

  7. I love you non-transcendental, grounded, salt-of-the-earth, ORDINARY punks and patients and comrades. I’m proud to co-operate with you, and to keep GETTING STUFF DONE with you!

  8. I started reading his article with mild amusement, especially when he called acupuncture a “jewel,” and I thought here goes another person comparing acupuncture to something beautiful and shiny that has no actual usefulness.

    But here’s when I got pissed: “Enroll [in acupuncture school] with the mindset that you will become an ‘Acupuncture Missionary’. Sacrificing yourself to share your love of this medicine.” Seriously? Now we’re supposed to ask practitioners and students to sacrifice themselves? To what, exactly? And for what purpose? Simply to bask in the glory of a “wonderful, amazing, exploration full of self wisdom and knowledge”? And how exactly does that help patients?

    No thanks. The acupuncturists who are so concerned with professional image can keep their jewels, ming vases, white coats and whatever titles they want. Hand me a bucket, a cast-iron skillet, and a box of 1,000 needles. I’m gonna put on a pair of jeans, join hands with my fellow acupunks, and be of use.

  9. This guy actually uses the word “missionary” in a non-ironic way? Where does one even start with that? OR — is he actually doing us a favour by demonstrating how desperately the profession needs punks, just in time for our membership drive?? Brilliant!

  10. This was a lot to take in on a Sunday morning when I opened my laptop to put on some tunes, while acu-hubby and I made breakfast (in a cast iron skillet, Alexa).

    Eric and I got really fired up and then started asking, what are we being reported for exactly? If he can report us for choosing to call our selves “punks” it’s as ridiculous as if I were to call all the boards and report him for being a douchebag, and believe me, I am tempted.

  11. Sometimes reading and replying to email is so tedious… other times it’s not. I love all of you loud-mouth punks and your P-9 qi gong techniques. And it’s great to have some comic relief combined with a strong affirmation that what POCA is doing is the best effing thing that’s come along for the acupuncture profession in this country ever.

  12. Why feed the trolls? This guy isn’t worth the time and I have no desire to feed his website traffic. There will be always be naysayers. I just personally don’t have the time to answer back to people like that while also trying to think of ways to make my clinic accessible to people like JigmeDatse who posted above.

    And I’ll go further: I wish my plea for POCA members to help brainstorm ways to expand our clinics’ reach (see my speech at the last POCAfest) had gotten the same passionate responses that this blog is getting (and the blogs about Felice Dunas and Peter Deadman and….) Where will we choose to put our energy next? I know some of us might be more motivated by people like this to do our POCA work- fair enough. But I have only so much time and energy; reading things like Stephen Brill’s Time magazine article on the insane cost of healthcare feeds my desire to be part of a revolution in community-supported healthcare; reading things like this guy’s email just distracts me. I have a feeling I’m not the only one. Come on guys, we have much bigger fish to fry!!

  13. “Sacrific[e] yourself to share your love of this medicine.”
    By charging $600/house call you will be sacrificing yourself as the phone stays silent.
    After watching some youtube videos he’s posted, but teaching people to “stretch” while needles are inserted is dangerous, and negligent. I’m happy to sit and wait for the first malpractice suit against his “trademarked” treatment where a patient has bent/broken a needle.

  14. It’s insanity to think that what POCA has done and is doing is ruining anything but an ineffective professional/legitimacy house of cards. There’s a frailty to this argument currently being levied at us, and it’s hard not to react to the extremism and tone. It’s a stunning example overreaching ridiculousness. These kinds of delusional attacks won’t go away- the best we can do is use them as an added source of energy for getting more shit done.

  15. This just received from a chiropractor in Italy:
    am writing to encourage you to continue your efforts for freedom to practice as you and your patients see fit. “GO PUNKS!”

    I ran across your website searching for the benefits of treating in a community environment for a second research paper that I am leading. The first paper (hopefully published soon) demonstrated incredible patient satisfaction while maintaining privacy in the open environment. As well, we found that the open environment creates a strong sense of community which may influence healing potential. This will be the theme of the second paper that I am organizing now.

    Although Chiropractors have used open adjusting environments from its beginnings I find that there is very little relative research on the open treatment setting.

    I would like to know if you have seen any research published in acupuncture regarding the healing benefits of a community treatment room versus private treatment rooms.
    Logically it makes sense that people heal quicker and more profoundly in a positive environment and other Chiropractors I have talked to would not go back to the private treatment room setting.

    So if you have seen anything of the sort please let me know. I plan to have reference to the resurgence of community acupuncture clinics in the paper as an established true traditional model of acupuncture.

  16. It’s sad. I think we can agree, on more than one level. But it’s important to me that we not get too stuck on the individual and their particular vastly over-reaching demands, and vulnerabilities, and keep to the larger theme: we are punks expressly because this is what we are up against. Our use of the word punk counters his use of transcendental. It’s like wearing a leather jacket while whipping down the wild road. If you stick around long enough you will see that inside the leather are extra large hearts–how else could we do all we do? I’m with Whitney: punketty punk punk.

    BUT, I am also not ok with someone threatening my professional license over his preferences. I am of the mind to submit my own complaints against him for harrassment of his colleagues.
    Whether there is any real weight to it or not, make no mistake about this, he is not the victim here, he is the aggressor.

  17. Can’t see what possible value there might be in fueling this. Whether he’s actually as ill as his writings and ideas suggest or if he’s some kind of weird stalking horse being used by our detractors as a strategy to impede our progress, my response will still be to get up in the morning and go serve a room full of acupuncture patients. And Chris, my fellow PUNK will do the same during the evening after I’m done. And our staff will support us and do their own kind of patient care in the process. The day after that, along with hundreds of our fellow PUNKS around the country and the world, we’ll do it again, and we’ll keep doing it, and people like this guy will keep misunderstanding us because what we do isn’t primarily about acupuncture and never really has been. Acupuncture is our mode of service to our communities, and our means of sustaining and organizing ourselves in order to be able to continue providing that service. When acupuncture and “the medicine” became abstracted icons to be worshipped and made special and “protected”, the real purpose was lost. Our right to survive will be defined by how well and how much we serve. Practicing the medicine with that and nothing else in mind by definition includes protecting and caring for the methods, but only as long as they remain useful and available to the majority of the people in our communities.

  18. Thanks for all the comments, everyone!

    I think there’s another interesting potential conversation here about feeding trolls/the role of the blog/participation in POCA. Oh yeah, and MEMBERSHIP. When I first saw the “acu-idiot” emails, to be honest, my first thought was, “lo, a wingnut”. And when I read the blog post in question, I thought, “yeah, I’ve heard this before”. But then I read the comments, and as they developed, I thought, “wait, this is actually really interesting and totally worth discussing” — and that’s when I decided to blog about it. The crux was the comment where the blogger asserted that he thought community acupuncture was fine as a business model but we shouldn’t be allowed to describe ourselves as punks.

    I would rather not get into a discussion about whether or not the blogger in question is in fact a wingnut, because I think he has a point. And in fact, he has a point that has been brought up by lots of people who are clearly not wingnuts over the years. If I had a dollar for every time someone who is theoretically supportive of POCA has said to me, “I think community acupuncture is great, BUT” — we wouldn’t need to have membership dues around here anymore. So from my perspective, this guy might be upset (and kind of entertaining), but he isn’t a troll.

    In a lot of ways, this post is a companion piece to this one about POCA and coops: You might find this weird, but having an animated conversation about what POCA is and why it looks the way it looks over Thai food with some charming co-op folks, and responding to a blogger who is threatening to report us all to the authorities — those things engage the same parts of my brain and it doesn’t feel all that different to me. I don’t find it stressful or negative, just REALLY interesting. And I write about it because 1) it helps me think about POCA, which I like to do, and 2) as a way of sharing the experience of thinking about POCA, which I also like to do.

    And of course, there’s the business about how nobody is giving me dollar bills for “I love community acupuncture BUT”. We’re having a membership drive this month. People have suggested that maybe the blogger I’m responding to was just trying to drive traffic to his blog, and that’s possible — but hey, it’s an abundant universe, there’s plenty of traffic for everybody, and the last I checked, 145 people liked this post on Facebook, right in the middle of our membership drive. Win-win!

    Anyway, getting back to the role of the blog. One of the many things that I got out of talking to Eric and Narendra was a visceral appreciation of how POCA really is a co-op, and how important that is. Plus, hearing them talk about how great they think we’re doing gave me some perspective on POCA’s place in the co-op world. What I got out of reading Evan’s blog was also a visceral appreciation of how POCA really is a co-op, and perspective on our place in the world. The reason he is not a troll is that he is questioning our decision to cut ties with our professional image and potential professional affiliations with other acupuncturists. He thinks we’re doing that just because we’re hostile and negative, and so do other people within the profession. But really, the reason we did it — and as far as I’m concerned we can’t talk about this enough — is because we chose to cooperate with marginalized patients. That’s the core of our identity as an organization. I appreciate the chance to highlight it and clarify it, and so I’m grateful to Eric, Narendra, AND Evan. (Continued in next comment)

  19. So yeah, the blog, and membership and participation in POCA.

    I certainly understand the strategy of simply letting our actions speak for themselves — just treat a lot of people and let the ripples happen! I’m a proponent of that, actually. If anybody’s new around here and wondering about it, I do actually do other things besides blog; I help operate a big clinic. WCA gave 972 treatments last week, a record for us. We see the benefits of just treating lots of people, every single day, in the relationships that we are building in our community with people who don’t necessarily ever read blogs or get on the internet or even speak English. It’s a beautiful thing.

    But it’s a completely different thing than having a blog. If we just want to let our actions speak for themselves, why have a blog at all? One of the assets POCA has as an organization, that is has built up over time and through the contributions of many different people, is that we run one of the few blogs in the acu-world that significant numbers of people actually read. But blogs, if they are going to continue to be read, need content. They need a lot of content, in regular doses.

    So if you would prefer that this blog have more things on it than conversations with people who don’t like us — write the kind of stuff that you want to read, and send it to us! If you want to be a guest blogger, send an email to Melissa, the blogger boss. You could write lovely dispatches describing the growth of your clinic, as Lisa B. is doing regularly. You could write reflections on your journey to CA, as Robert H. did recently. If you are building relationships with other co-ops or cooperative organizations on POCA’s behalf, over lunch or over beer or just over the internet, tell us how that process is going. People do all kinds of different things to contribute to the growth and understanding of CA, and they are all interesting to read about.

    POCA is exactly what we make it. If you want more of something, bring it.